How to Make Ceramic Chess Pieces

chess image by Andrius Grigaliunas from Fotolia.com

A homemade chess set turns a game board into an artwork. Making your own chess board is one thing, but you can really get creative if you make your own chess pieces by hand. One of the easiest ways is with clay to create ceramic pieces. You can make beautifully detailed, comical, oversized and even abstract chess pieces to put on your favourite chess board.

Pinch off a ball of clay, about 2 inches in diameter. Dampen your hands slightly with water, kept nearby in a container. Mold this ball into the basic shape of a pawn—you can simply make it conical with a smaller ball on top, or shape it into a human form. Repeat until you have 16 pawn shapes, as similar in size and shape as you can make them. Let them harden slightly.

Carve more detail into your pawn pieces using your sculpting tools. Tools with a metal loop on the end are for scraping away clay and scalpel-shaped tool are for cutting and adding details and come in various sizes. Once you have the pawn pieces as you want them, set them aside on the oven tray.

Pinch off 12 balls of clay, about 3 inches in diameter. Form four into a conical shape for the base-shape of the bishop; four into a rectangular shape for the base-shape of the castle and four into an angle for the base-shape of the knight. Allow to harden slightly.

Carve your details into the hardened pieces—if you are making the pieces humanistic, give the bishop a beard, long robes and a conical hat. Make turrets around the top of the castle, and you can even imprint the design of bricks as well. Refine the shape of the horse’s head for the knight—if you are making a ‘magical’ style chess set, you can make the knights unicorns by adding on a single horn.

Pinch off four balls of clay roughly 4 inches in diameter. Shape two into the basic shape of your king, and two into your queens—make the queens longer and thinner, and the kings more angular and stocky. Leave to harden, then add in the details using your ceramic tools—both need a crown, but the queen should have a long flowing dress, while the king can have a cloak. Set all the pieces to dry for a couple of hours.

Bake the chess pieces in the oven, following the modelling clay manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Let cool.

Paint on the final details of your chess pieces. Small paintbrushes will let you achieve fine details, like eyebrows and smiles, to give your chess pieces character. Choose a colour-set for each side of the chess pieces; perhaps blues and purples for one side, and reds and yellows for the other so that they are easily distinguishable. Let dry.

Bake the pieces again on the oven tray, this time following the ceramic paint manufacturer’s instructions. Once baked and cool, you can varnish your pieces to add extra gloss, or leave them matt.

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